St.Thomas Orthodox Theological Seminary(STOTS), Nagpur organized a two-day Seminar on “Towards a Relishing and Transforming Orthodox Church Life among the Young Diaspora” on 3rd& 4th August, 2017 at the Seminary, where five  Metropolitans of the outside Kerala dioceses along with the clergy office bearers of MGOCSM and Diaspora spiritual organizations and also a few young lay leaders of the diocesesof Outside Kerala Region (OKR) and the Governing Board members  of the Seminary took active participation. All the full time faculty and the students of the seminary also participated in it meaningfully.  The Chief Guest of the seminar was HG Zachariah Mar Nicholovas, Metropolitan of North East American diocese, and was graced by the participation of HG GeevargheseMar Coorilos, HGDr. Joseph Mar Dionysius, HG Dr. GeevargheseMar Yulios and HG Dr. Abraham Mar Seraphim. The purpose of the seminar was to evaluate, critique and challenge the existing efforts of the Church to make the Church life and practise of faith relevant and more meaningful to the new- generation. To what extent is it making their Church life/ spiritual life a vibrant and experiential one? To what extent can the Church claim to,or have been able to create an ownership among the Diaspora of the church and its faith? Through this process, it was also an opportunity to explore new avenues and ministries through which the Seminary, which was established for catering to the needs of the Church in the diaspora and blessed with geographical centrality and the potential of moulding human resource with immense potential, can guide and edify the Church in the Diaspora.

The seminar started with the clarion call from His Holiness Moran Mar BaseliosPaulose II, the Catholicos of the East and the Malankara Metropolitan who reminded the leaders and parishioners of the churches in the diaspora of their responsibility to make the faith and traditions of the Church, relevant and attractive to the new generation, for which they need to find practical solutions.

The theme of the seminar engaged the delegates on various such issues that the church is facing in the Diaspora. HG Zachariah Mar Nicholovasof the North East American Diocese, who gave the theme address, emphasized the fact that the Church has to move away from the framework of Kerala centeredness and think in terms of “where God has placed me at, what is my witness in becoming a relevant and a true Orthodox Christian.” Mar Nicholovas pointed out that “Orthodox life is faith that should not be practiced in a green house frame work, where the efforts are often to re-invent the Malayalee culture and tradition in the Diaspora, which often has a negative impact on the young generation in understanding the Orthodox life and spirituality.”The understanding of the term ‘Diaspora’ itself needs a paradigm shift in terms of its usage and connotation. The concept of Diaspora as understood today is in relation to the centrality of Kerala. Since it is a fact that the Church having grown in the Diaspora, not out of punishment or exile like that of the Diaspora Jews, but more out of choice that generations have had to make, it is imperative that a local identity be created for the Diaspora Church, such as a Maharashtrian Orthodox, a Delhi Orthodox, a Bhopal Orthodox etc. There is a need to equip the young generation to practice Orthodoxy from where they belong to.

It was HG DrYouhanon Mar Demetrios of Delhi, who though absent, drew the attention of the delegates through his presentation about the growing evidence from the discovery of artifacts indicating Christian presence in North India, which date back to AD 49, implying that St Thomas the Apostle came to North India first. These developments compel us to re-focus on the See of St. Thomas, not just geographically to include the whole of India and the East, but to envision the witness of Christ, as practiced by the Apostle, amidst diverse cultures and languages. In this context, the Church in the Diaspora gains more relevance as the cradle from which, such a witness can be put to practice. The model of mission parishes which would be more welcoming and inclusive to those who belong to varied backgroundswas discussed as a possibility in each diocese, to give shape to this vision, which would in long terms alsoaddress Diaspora issues in the region.

The seminar further brought forth the following key points for further consideration and discussion by the Church in the outside Kerala Region:-

  • There is a need for interconnectedness between the home, parish and church ministry to address various challenges of the Church in the Diaspora, as stressed by G Dr. Joseph Mar Dionysiusof Calcutta Diocese. The challenges of the Diaspora in each of these contexts need to be addressed which will require varying methodologies and relevant resources have to be developed which can be usefulfor the Church as a whole.

  • A personal relationship between a priest and his parish or spiritual organization that he is involved with is a key factor in addressing a lot of problems and challenges of the Diaspora. Many good examples were shared as a result of this key factor. However, this becomes a challenge for a priest in a big parish, where because of the extra workload, the quality of maintaining this personal relationship is difficult. The usual tenure of three years in a parish in this context is ineffective to bring about any influential change in the parish, particularly among the young generation. Besides having passionate priests who can in such circumstances minister effectively to the flock, it is suggested to re-consider the tenure of the priest in a parish for a longer period or implement a practical priest – laity ratio which can distribute pastoral responsibilities and address issues effectively in the parish.

  • Identify and coordinate a team of Diaspora priests and lay persons as a resource pool for conducting workshops, conventions& seminars in the Outside Kerala Region (OKR). Keeping a separate full time priest dedicated for coordinating Diaspora programs across dioceses, on a national level and diocesan level can help give impetus to such efforts.

  • An assessment and documentation of the tangible &the intangible (visible and invisible) assets of every parish will help provide sustainable growth of the parish amidst regular transfers of the priests. Accountability with respect to building both of these assets needs to be systematically implemented, both at parish level and at the clergy level. A database of resources, in the form of laity having different capacities (teaching, youth activities, professional training, social support, home care for infants, the aged, the sick etc.) can be developed at parish and diocesan level giving rise to immense possibilities for the growth of the parish. A participative leadership model will allow the subsequent priests coming to that parish to engage more effectively with various issues in the parish.

  • A parallel option in parishes to cater to varying linguistic groups, to allow Sunday Services in Malayalam and in the vernacular. Since the Diaspora churches have problems that are only going to intensify with time if left unaddressed, there is a suggestion that efforts in strengthening the Sunday school curriculum and a re- imagination of teaching methodologies will go a long way in helping the children to understand our faith as they grow up. An intentional effort to be creative in each aspect of the Church life, i.e. worship, study and service, can make a bigger impact in attracting the young generation towards a meaningful engagement with Orthodoxy.

  • A prayergroup exclusively for the new generation in each parish is desirable to strengthen the spiritual life of them. Our traditional spiritual organizations are categorized based on the criterion like gender difference, age difference, geographical difference etc. But in the Diaspora context, the criterion of the cultural difference also need to be taken into consideration.  Already in a few parishes such exclusive prayer groups for the young diaspora are functioning.

  • A ‘liturgy after liturgy’ in each parish ensuring the participation of the new generation will enhance their interest in the Church life and strengthen their faith. In other words a genuine service to the suffering and the marginalized and also sharing gospel in an Orthodox way   will be very much rewarding.

  • Develop new resources in the form of various media to express and teach the Orthodox faith, such as through TV, radio, mobile apps, websites. The proposal for a YouTube channel is something that is very simple and practical for every individual diocese to follow. A dedicated office for this has to be thought of in each diocese, which will help address regional issues effectively.

  • Conflicts and fights of the adults in many parishes have alienated and are alienating many youngsters from the Church life and sometimes even from God. As the ancient Christian father St. Ignatius of Antioch rightly said the ‘Church is a choir to sing Christ’.  So maintaining harmony in parishes  at any cost is essential for making the Church life a relishing and transforming experience for all the parishioners especially for the new generation.

  • Presence and leadership of priests and adults in each parish who practise orthodox Christian faith is extremely important for making the Church an interesting and transforming experience for the new generation. Life example will inspire.  Integrating faith and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ into family life, professional life, and public and private life etc., are extremely important.

Thanking all those who have participated in the seminar and contributed to the preparation of this.

August 9, 2017                                                                  Principal, STOTS, Nagpur